Thursday, October 27, 2011

Struggling with Handwriting? Try Handwriting Without Tears

     My oldest son started "scribbling" at a young age, and like many children, figured out how to write his name by copying the letters he saw.  We practiced handwriting as he got older, and we worked on breaking some bad habits such as starting letters at the bottom or capitalizing letters in the middle of words.  However, writing just wasn't a big issue.  
     My youngest son, in contrast, had no interest in drawing, coloring, or picking up a crayon or pencil for any reason at all - ever.  In kindergarten, when it came to handwriting, it just didn't click.  Writing was physically and mentally taxing for him.  After doing some research, I purchased the Handwriting Without Tears preschool level called Get Set for School, and the program really made a difference.
     The program approaches writing at the preschool level in a multi-sensory way.  Children build the letters on a card and on a mat with 4 wooden block shapes:  a big line, little line, big curve, and little curve.  Every capital letter can be made with these 4 shapes.  For example, the letter "B" is a big line down, little curve, little curve.  The letter "D" is a big line down, big curve.  The letter "L" is a big line down, little line. Children also roll out play dough to make the lines and curves to make the letters.  They draw the letters on a small chalkboard and on a magnetic erase board.  Also, fun songs help teach important concepts:  "Where do you start your letters?  At the top!  Where do you start your letters?  At the top!  If you're going to write a letter, then you better, better, better -- you better start your letter at the top!"  (sung to the tune of "If You're Happy and You Know It")  The children also practice in a workbook. 
     For him, we practiced the order of how to make the letters with the blocks, and we did all the fun stuff I discussed above.  After a while, this whole mysterious thing called "writing" started to click.  He didn't LOVE it and it was still hard, but he began to make progress. After preschool, we progressed through the other steps in the program.
     As your child ages, the curriculum offers consistent review and reinforcement.   I have not started the cursive program with my youngest, but while in the 6th grade, my oldest worked through the book, "Can-Do Cursive" that is for students in fifth grade or older to reinforce and practice cursive skills.  He really liked the book because it included cartoons, Greek and Latin roots, grammar, etc. 
     For the parent or teacher, the preschool year of this program is the most difficult because there is planning that has to be done ahead of time.  However, with the teacher guide, it really is not that time consuming.  After we moved through the preschool curriculum, I rarely used the teacher guide.  We usually just worked through the workbooks one at a time, following the directions in the workbook.  Also, I never rushed through the books.  If he began to get frustrated, I would have him do only half a page -- sometimes only a third.  My goal was and is to help my child learn the skill of handwriting -- not get through the book in a year.
     My youngest son, now 9, has filled notebooks upon notebooks with his drawings.  He took a notebook with him today while we went to Home Depot and drew pictures while I did some shopping.  If you saw his handwriting, you'd think it wasn't the best, but I know how far he's come and how hard he's worked to get this far.  Sometimes it just takes time, patience, and lots and lots of practice.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Historical Fiction: Trailblazer Books by Dave & Neta Jackson

     The Trailblazer Books series by Dave and Neta Jackson is another option for learning church history through historical fiction.  From the back of the book:  "Thrilling adventure stories introducing young readers (ages 8-12) to Christian heroes of the past."  My oldest son read Spy for the Night Riders: Martin Luther and Traitor in the Tower:  John Bunyan. Unfortunately, you cannot get these at our library, and many are out of print.  Some of the books are available on Amazon or CBD, and you can download the books for a fee here.   To see a list of their books in chronological order along with the heroes they are about, go to the bottom of the Trailblazer webpage and click on "Timeline."
     Older kids can read these independently, and younger children can listen while you read them aloud.  In each story, a fictional child is a main character.  In the front of the book, the authors tell the reader which characters and events are fiction and what is actual history.  These books make great companions to history lessons, but since they are action adventure stories, they can be used for independent reading or book reports.
     After a history lesson about John Bunyan, my oldest son read Traitor in the Tower.  Then, as a read-aloud, the boys and I began The Pilgrim's Progress , the original version.   As we get to certain scenes in The Pilgrim's Progress, my son recognizes them from Traitor in the Tower and exclaims, "Hey, that was in Traitor in the Tower!"   It's fun to watch it all come together.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Stewardship for Kids: The ABC's of Handling Money God's Way

     According to Dave Ramsey, God refers to money and stewardship more than 800 times in the Bible. How do we impart Godly wisdom regarding money to our kids?
     When my oldest was about seven years old, we read through The ABC's of Handling Money God's Way by Howard and Bev Dayton of Crown Ministries and then began giving him an allowance.  This curriculum is meant to be a 12 week study geared to children ages 5-7.  However, I am currently doing it with my nine-year-old, and it is working well.  You can read and discuss a chapter in ten to fifteen minutes, and the course has a teacher's guide which you can purchase separately.
     The book starts with the idea that the Bible is God's word, and He has something to say about money.  It  then moves on to 1 Chronicles 29:11:   "Everything in the heavens and earth is yours, O Lord."  The book then discusses stewardship, hard work, tithing, saving, contentment, spending, debt, wise counsel and obedience to parents, honesty, salvation, giving to the poor, and friendship.  All this is woven into story form.  Elizabeth and her friends want a way to earn money for a puppy, and they turn to her mother for help.  Mrs. Day replies, "God loves you.  He wants to help you use money in the best way.  We will have twelve lessons.  In each lesson you will answer some questions.  And we will learn a Bible verse" (Dayton 6).
     Personally, I suggest doing no more than two lessons per week, consistently going back and revisiting themes and giving the ideas time to "soak" in.  For example, it is very counter-cultural to view everything we "own" as really belonging to God.  While you're at it, examine yourself.  We cannot teach our children to be content, stay out of debt, tithe, or save if we do not do these things ourselves.  Personally, I was convicted about how I see things as "mine" because I worked hard or saved up for them. 
     Rather than the "jar" system that is presented in the book, we set up an "envelope" system.  After finishing the book with my then-seven-year-old, we decorated envelopes and started him on a massive allowance of $1.00 per week.  For us, the allowance is a tool that we use to train our children in financial stewardship, and for a seven-year-old, $1.00 is easy to break down into percentages:  10% tithes, 20% savings, 10% giving, and 60% spending.  I would recommend an amount that would not make saving for things they want "too easy" to achieve.  Now at age 12, his break down is:  30% Me, Myself, and I, 10% tithes, 25% pets, 20% bank, and 15% giving, and when he receives money for birthdays or other occasions, he divides up his money as he desires into his categories with tithes being mandatory.  As a side note, we do not give any compensation for chores.
     The Daytons have written another book for older children called  The Secret of Handling Money God's Way for ages 8-12.  However, after doing The ABC's of Handling Money God's Way, my oldest latched onto the principles, and we have not needed the second book.  At some point, we'll need a stewardship course that delves deeper into the world of credit cards, debit cards, checkbooks, budgeting, etc. -- and when we get there, I'll share it with you.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Geography --

     When I was in school, learning geography involved purple, smelly mimeographed map pages, a sharp pencil, and small writing.  Luckily, now there is something better out there for kids. has lots of fun, FREE games.  However, the ones that we use daily for educational purposes are the U.S. Geography Games and the World Geography Games.  They're really not games, but don't tell that to my children.
     You start with a tutorial and then move on to quizzes.  My children have learned the states of the United States and their capitals, rivers, lakes, landscapes, and oceans (near the U.S.)  Next, they moved on to the countries of South America.  Now my oldest is tackling Europe, and my youngest chose the countries of Asia.  Every day, I have them review an old "area" and then work on a new one.  For example, today my youngest will take the quiz on the countries of South America and write down how many correct he got out of 20.  Then, he'll work on the tutorial for Asia.  After a few days, he'll start the quiz for Asia until he begins to get them mostly correct, consistently, while continuing to review an old "area" of study daily.  This takes about ten minutes a day per child, and they can do it independently.
     This program works.  When I was traveling to South Korea, my husband and son were tracking my airplane on the computer.  When my husband said that I was flying over Alaska, my then 8-year-old looked at the map and replied, "Actually, Daddy, she's flying over the Aleutian Islands."
     Did I mention that this program is FREE?

     ***Many thanks to Marla F. for introducing me to this website.***

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Art of Conversation -- Don't Drop the Ball

     A few days ago, the boys and I were traveling to the seminary where my husband teaches for a student appreciation cookout.  I was reviewing and discussing with the boys the art of conversation, and I brought out an illustration that we had not used in a long time -- having a conversation is like playing catch.
     If someone tosses you the ball, you should toss it back.  If he or she says, "Do you like school?" and you reply with a mere "Yes," you have dropped the ball.  The person has nothing to build on from the original question.  If you reply, "Yes.  Science is my favorite subject," then you have thrown the ball back,  and the person can ask a question based on your comment.  If possible or appropriate, ask a question in return.  "Yes, science is my favorite subject.  What about you?" 
     Knowing that the boys would be meeting several adults that would ask them questions, I decided to practice with each boy.  My youngest caught on right away and enjoyed this "game" very much.  When it was my oldest's turn, I asked, "So, do you like homeschooling?"  He replied with a succinct, "Yes."  My youngest leaned over and whispered, "You just dropped the ball."  We got a good laugh, and the boys did great conversing at the cookout, by the way.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Historical Fiction -- Louise A. Vernon

     One of our favorite ways to "learn" history is through historical fiction.  Our public library system, which is huge, has many titles to choose from all areas of history, with one exception:  church history.  Louise A. Vernon has written 13 titles for ages 8-12.  Many you can get on   Amazon or through Christian Book Distributors. Also, you can purchase a set of 12 from a little known company Library and Educational Services for $63.63.

     I have listed all thirteen that I know of here -- but they are not in chronological order.

   Book                                       Subject
The Beggars' Bible                  John Wycliffe
The Bible Smuggler                William Tyndale
Doctor in Rags                       Paracelsus and Hutterites
A Heard Strangely Warmed     John Wesley
Ink on His Fingers                 Johann Gutenberg
Key to the Prison                   George Fox and Quakers
*The Kings's Book                   King James Version, Bible
The Man Who Laid the Egg     Erasmus
Night Preacher                      Menno Simons
Peter and the Pilgrims            English Separatists, Pilgrims
*The Secret Church                Anabaptists
Thunderstorm in Church         Martin Luther
*Strangers in the Land           Huguenots 

*Ones we've read.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Times Tales -- A Great Way to Learn Multiplication

     When my kids were younger, I had great visions that my children would learn loads of important facts and information through music.  When in preschool, I purchased 2 bible memory song CDs.  When my youngest began Sparks (AWANA), I bought the CD with the verses set to music.  I bought  skip counting, addition, subtraction, multiplication , and geography-- all set to music.  Don't ask to borrow them, though.  I have gotten rid of them all.  Many children learn through song, but my children are not among them.  When the whining is louder than the songs, at some point you have to give up and say, "This isn't working!"
     So my oldest and I trudged through addition, subtraction, and multiplication facts.  This year, my youngest began learning multiplication facts.  The 0s, 1s, 2s, and 10s are easy -- but the 5s and beyond start to get tricky.  Well, we have a great find to share:  Times Tales by Trigger Memory System.
     Each number is a person or thing.  A chair is 4, Mrs. Week is 7, the first grade class is 6 (because most first graders are six years old), Mrs. Snowman is 8, and so on.  The video shares each character and then introduces the characters in stories.  After the children memorize the stories, they know their upper math facts.  There is a quiz at the end, and there is an extra CD-rom that includes worksheets and flashcards.
     For example, Mrs. Week's (7) first grade class (6) has 42 students  (7x6=42), Mr. and Mrs. Snowman (8 and 8) must eat 6 snowcones 4 times a day (slurp, slurp -- 8x8=64), and the first grade class (6) played musical chairs (4) for 24 hours.  (Yawn!  6 x 4 = 24).  When the narrator tells the story of Mrs. Snowman melting and the butterflies (number 3) flying away with her arms and apron, I burst into laughter.  The video is quirky and creative, but it works.  My youngest has watched it 5 times, and he's pretty much memorized all the upper multiplication facts.
     The DVD is a little pricey ($26.99 on Amazon), but in my opinion, it's so worth it.